By Carl Begai
When word came down in March 2011 that Canadian bashers Into Eternity’s vocalist Stu Block had replaced Matt Barlow as the singer for Iced Earth, it caused major confusion amongst fans in both camps. Iced Earth followers that were aware of Block’s shriek-and-growl style were convinced guitarist / founder Jon Schaffer had lost his mind, while Into Eternity fans were left wondering if the band had a future without Block’s unique vocal talents. Both he and guitarist Tim Roth have maintained that Block is still with Into Eternity – a claim that rang true with the recent release of the single ‘Fukushima’ – but news that The Order Of Chaos singer Amanda Kiernan had been brought in as Block’s live replacement so the band can tour served up another barrage of questions. With that in mind, Roth was happy to hook up and set the record straight.
“We were rehearsing on a Friday, and after a whole weekend of rehearsals he hit me with the news that he’d joined Iced Earth,” Roth recalls when asked how Block broke the news of getting the gig. “And then he hit me with a CD of him singing some new Iced Earth stuff. So not only did he tell me, he showed me some of the material they’d already recorded. I was just floored. Stu and I are best friends, and we weren’t doing anything at the time, so it makes sense that someone would come in and invite Stu to join their band. Jon Schaffer knows talent, I know talent, and Stu has always been that shining diamond in the rough. When I’d seen him in his previous band he really impressed me. I knew I had to have a guy with his kind of vocals in Into Eternity.” Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
It’s been a long, long, long time since Iced Earth has done anything for me, with Something Wicked This Way Comes from 1998 standing as the last knock-down no-holds-barred skull basher in guitarist / founder Jon Schaffer’s catalogue. There have been some noteworthy moments since then – ‘The Phantom Opera Ghost’ from Horror Show and ‘The Reckoning’ from The Glorious Burden being the mindblowing faves – but nothing that dug its hooks in down to the bone for the space of a full album. With that in mind, the usual industry hype that preceded the release of Dystopia sounded like smoke-blow for the hopeless fanboy, automatically setting my expectations on the low side as a failsafe against disappointment.
The first spin through Dystopia yanked jaw to floor. Repeated listens since then – again and again… and again – have convinced me that Iced Earth is back in the game and capable of surpassing the brightest moments of The Dark Saga / Something Wicked… breakthrough era from over a decade past.
Dystopia’s charm and staying power stem from the fact that Schaffer has dialled back his penchant of the past five years for delivering music in epic and sometimes too-big-to-be digested portions. By no means is this a sign he’s lacking in ambition these days; it’s just being channelled in a new (old) way. And, Schaffer should be applauded for stripping things down and keeping focus on the bloody point. Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
Vancouver-born Stu Block made a name for himself in 2006 as the new singer for Into Eternity, adding a welcome new dynamic to the band’s established extreme prog metal sound on The Scattering Of Ashes. In 2008 the band released a follow-up, The Incurable Tragedy, which cemented Block’s reputation as one of metal’s most versatile (and severely underrated) vocalists. Iced Earth founder/guitarist Jon Schaffer was paying attention, however, and when it was confirmed that fan-favoured singer Matt Barlow would be calling it quits, he followed through on a third party recommendation and brought Block in to fill the vacant slot. The end result is somewhat mind-boggling for those that are familiar with Block’s Into Eternity brand of shred and Iced Earth’s traditional metal sound; he fits the songs on the new album like a glove, bringing an intensity to the new songs that Barlow hadn’t exhibited in ages and Tim “Ripper” Owens never had. It’s fair to say Dystopia may well be Iced Earth’s strongest album in over a decade.
“Joining the band, it felt like I’d won the lottery,” laughs Block, an admission some Into Eternity diehards may take exception to. “Really, there was a feeling of validation. Joining Iced Earth is a huge opportunity, so I was feeling a mix of pure joy, excitement, and being scared shitless (laughs).”
For the serious musician with leanings towards the old school, accepting an invitation to join a band with Iced Earth’s credentials would be a no-brainer. Take a moment to look at the big picture, however, and you see the mountain of responsibility Block had to consider before accepting Schaffer’s offer.
“There are certain factors in my life where it was sort of a tough decision,” Block admits, “but I knew in the back of my mind that it was a no-brainer. My mom is dealing with some stuff right now, and I’m going to be on the road, but you can’t live your life being held back. Anyone can find an excuse not to do something. I know this will be a life changing experience, I’m going to be away from my home and my fiancée for months on end, but I have a such a great support system in my family that everyone including my mother is encouraging me to do this. They told me I’d be a fool if I didn’t do it and I agreed wholeheartedly. I try to keep a positive attitude towards the whole thing, knowing what I’ve gotten myself into. In the back of my mind it was a definite yes.” Continue Reading
For you Hoser-loving heathens…
First off, unless you’ve been living under the weight of a large rock and your own self-importance, you’re aware that former Skid Row vocalist Sebastian Bach has released his new album, Kicking & Screaming. (Yes, yes, I know he lives in the U.S., but Doodness grew up in Peterborough, Ontario and cut his teeth in Toronto). As I mentioned in my review (found here), the record didn’t do anything for me during the first spin, but it won me over and has since become a regular listen in the hallowed halls of BW&BK’s European crash pad. Apologies to Baz for my initial misgivings, but the album is a brilliant piece of work. If you were ever a fan of the Skid Row debut and Slave To The Grind, pick it up.
Check out my illustrious BW&BK colleague Aaron Small’s recent interview with Bach here. Continue Reading